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Multivitamins: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Ideally, humans would eat wholly nutritious diets rich in protein, vitamins and minerals. The fact is, most people do not meet all their nutritional needs through their food. As a result, many of us rely on multivitamins and supplements to achieve more complete nutrition.

Question: Do you know what those vitamins and minerals are doing in your body? Do you know how much of the product your body actually absorbs when it comes to taking a multivitamin

No federal regulations

Vitamins, minerals and nutritional supplements produced and distributed in the U.S. are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. In fact, if you or I wanted to start selling our own personal brands of vitamins, mineral supplements or similar products, we could do so without anyone, including the FDA, having a say in the matter.

This lack of regulation should sound a warning signal about these products' contents. Most supplements on the market are basically garbage. While they may contain good-for-you ingredients, they do nothing to bolster your nutrition because your body cannot absorb them.

Nutritional companies spend thousands of dollars marketing their products to convince consumers how great they are. For example, the best-known multivitamin brands found in drug and discount stores are virtually useless. Rather than trying to dazzle you with their exaggerated claims, supplement companies would be better off spending their dollars on research to determine that their products really are benefiting you. The quality of a supplement's contents is far more important than any sexy claims its manufacturer can make. Your main concerns should be the quality and bioavailability (level of absorption and use by the body) of any product you purchase.

Supplements cannot repair the effects of bad eating

Hippocrates said it best, "Let food be thy medicine and let thy medicine be thy food."

Eating naturally nutritious food is the most important aspect of your diet. The foundation you lay with proper eating habits is far more important than any food supplement you can take. Examine your eating and exercise habits before you consider seeing a doctor for almost any problem.

However, even the best vitamins and supplements available will not propel you to optimal health if you otherwise eat unhealthy food. Say your diet consists mainly of pre-packaged and/or fast foods, but you take your Centrum or One-a-Day, so you talk yourself into thinking you feel fine. Your body knows otherwise, and you may find yourself in big trouble in a few years. All this amounts to is killing yourself slowly.

Why take supplements at all?

Even the most healthful eater might want to consider supplements, due to the lack of nutrients in our soil. Soil in the U.S. slowly has been losing more and more nutrients each year, making our foods less tasty and less nourishing to our bodies.

The single most important health factor is nourishment. If we lack proper nourishment, we will slowly die of disease, obesity and malnutrition. Yes, extremely overweight people are largely malnourished! The way to achieve optimal health is to eat as few calories as possible, while still providing your body with the highest levels of nourishment.

This is where organic food plays a key role. Organic food has been shown to contain 40 percent more nutrients than regular commercially produced food. Add high quality supplements which provide your body with bioavailable vitamins and minerals, and it becomes easy to live a long, healthy life while consuming fewer calories and still obtaining the nutrients you need to function optimally.

What to look for in a supplement

Almost everyone should start off with a multivitamin supplement. Multivitamins work better than taking individual supplements because they provide the body with a combination of all the vitamins a minerals it needs in a single source. The body prefers this delivery method because it can better absorb and utilize them in combination than it can when you take each vitamin and mineral separately.

Other beneficial supplements include antioxidants found in trace minerals, and some specific vitamins and minerals not contained in most multivitamins. Antioxidants contain nutrients to help fight off the oxidative properties in free radicals that cause your body to break down. Taking an antioxidant supplement will keep your body strong and healthy, allowing less breakdown.

Still other important supplements are cod liver oil, fish oil, flax seed oil, and whey or egg protein (sometimes used as a form of meal replacement).

Each individual requires different nutrients and a generic multivitamin certainly can help address these deficiencies. Remember, though, any supplement is still a synthetic and not real food. Experiment until you find a high-quality product that works for you. There are dozens of good products out there, but none is "the best." Because we're all unique, no single product can be all things to all people. Specialty vitamin companies do develop personalized products. By performing blood, hair, and saliva work, they determine the necessary ingredients to create the best multivitamin for an individual. As you can imagine, that level of individualized production comes with a hefty price tag.

High-quality general-use supplements are out there. They can be found at the health food store and almost certainly will cost more than the famous name brands. But if you don't invest in your health first, every other investment in your life will be wasted. Isn't optimal health worth the cost and effort it takes to purchase quality products?

It might sound cliché, but it's true: You take care of your body, and your body will take care of you.

Scott White is a certified personal trainer and nutritionist located in Scottsdale, Ariz. For more information about nutrition and fitness, reach Scott at 480-628-1607 or Also:


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